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15 problems and solutions for large pre-school classes

1. You can’t individually ask them their names and ages If this is a problem because you actually want to know their names for purposes of classroom control etc (and it is great for that), the best solution is to ask someone to prepare name badges, preferably in roman script as well if it isn’t […]

1. You can’t individually ask them their names and ages
If this is a problem because you actually want to know their names for purposes of classroom control etc (and it is great for that), the best solution is to ask someone to prepare name badges, preferably in roman script as well if it isn’t used in their language. If this is not possible, you could try calling up kids randomly from a list of names until you learn who they are- as unfair as this is, it tends to get the whole class’s attention in a way that general requests like “quiet please” does not.

Alternatively, if the purpose of asking for these personal details is to practice typical getting to know you questions (and parents and schools are often keen for these to be taught), you could try roleplaying with children shouting out “My name’s…” with the correct name of the puppet or storybook or textbook character you are pointing at. Another possible approach, as long as you can make clear what you are doing, is to to name everyone in the class John or Jane etc and get them to shout out whatever name they have been given chorally with whoever else has been given the same name. This is easier with ages, as the children in class will probably have just one or two ages between them. When you hold up the number of fingers of their age they should shout out “I am…” chorally with all the people who are the same age. The simplest approach is just to ask a few people, making sure everyone shouts out the question so they are involved all the way through the activity, and that the people who aren’t asked are too distracted by the next fun game to feel left out.

2. Increased distractions
Just through pure statistics we can see that the number of possible interactions in a class means that the number of fights that need breaking up etc don’t just increase as the number of students goes up, they increase exponentially! One solution is to get the rest of the class doing something that gets everyone’s attention and/or leaves you free to take care of the problem kid, e.g. running round and round shouting “ruuuun!” or chasing each other making crocodile mouths with two straight arms. Another is to use the way everyone shouts or moves together (at least with a well trained class or with the over 3s) as a way of sweeping everyone up into the same activity, including the ones who were about to cry about something.

3. Students can’t see the book or flashcards
This is less of a problem if you clear a space at the front of the class where they can all gather round you, but in classes where there are very many students or where they have to stay at their desks you will need to think of other solutions. You can buy large books, but they cost a fortune and take up loads of storage space. You could try photocopying the flashcards or pages of the storybook blown up to A3, but they might be a bit unattractive in black and white. Alternatively, you could just blow up copies of the characters and act the story out as a puppet show instead of/as well as showing them the book. Getting the kids to act out what happens in the book also makes the meaning clear to even the kids at the back and gets them all involved. Another approach is to change your position all the time, so all the students can at least see the book for part of the story.

4. Lack of space
This can lead to them banging into each other as they run around, producing even more distractions, or even to it being impossible to do the running round games and songs that can add so much fun to pre-school classes. One solution is to do standing still versions of songs and games (e.g. touch your head as quickly as possible to show “Yes, it is” instead of running and touching the wall with that flashcard on it, or do the Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush song with students spinning round individually rather than in a big circle).

5. Noise
This, like distractions, increases exponentially with the number of children. This can be a good thing if it means students can sing along to a song or shout out in choral drilling without feeling self-conscious, but it can disturb neighbouring classes and make it difficult to hear the tape or teacher so that they are just copy each other rather than listening to what they should be doing and its correct pronunciation. One solution is to alternate loud activities with quiet sit down ones. Another is to make sure each activity has high energy and low energy variations, such as doing Head Shoulders Knees and Toes more and more slowly and then quickly.

6. The teacher can’t interact with kids individually
This is a particular problem in classes with small children as pairwork and even team games are very difficult, leaving the main meaningful interaction the one between the teacher and the individual students. Very young children are also much more motivated by the approval of adults than they are by their peers. One simple solution is just for the teacher to give them something individually during the class that they will use for one or more activity, e.g. giving them a piece of plastic fruit to balance on their body for body parts practice. An even easier one that many teachers use is to let the kids slap you on the hand at the start and/ or end of the class.

7. The teacher can’t judge how many already know it and how many are just copying
This isn’t as big a problem as it would be in a class with older students, as most pre-school kids seem to be able to learn simply by copying. As with classes of any age, though, the more you can engage every part of their brains, the more they will learn and retain. Solutions include giving the students who always shout out the correct answers something to show them they have done well and are now out of the game, such as the flashcard they have just named. Alternatively, you can give the best students the teacher’s role. If they are old enough and well disciplined enough to be divided into teams (made easier if you clearly divide the teams from each other by putting them at opposite sides of the room), you can at least cut down the number of students you are listening to every time to a half or quarter of the total.

8. Kids can hide
One part of this is not being able to spot students who are silent, but again this is not such as problem with 2 or 3 year olds as many of them need to be allowed to speak only when they are ready, and some even learn better by being given a silent period. Naughtiness is also easy to hide, but I guess that is natural in kids as well… One solution is to change your position in the classroom all the time. Another is to do all drilling as the whole class followed by one student you pick at random (but making sure that everyone gets picked eventually).

9. You can’t give them all worksheets
This could be due to time constrictions, as the time for getting pencils out etc is another thing that seems to increase exponentially with class size, or due to the expense of making so many photocopies. If you still want to use worksheets, you could try letting groups of older students work together in groups of four or five on one sheet or dividing the class into teams and having one student come up at a time to complete the task as quickly as possible with the encouragement of their team-mates (“The crocodile is green!” from looking at the teacher’s version etc).

10. Lack of materials
As well as lacking the budget for photocopies, you might not have enough pieces of plastic fruit or flashcards in one set to be able to give to each student as suggested above. Once you finish all the things you do have in the set of vocabulary you are practising, you could just give the others any you have in other sets (e.g. plastic animals, classroom objects such as erasers, or colour flashcards) so they don’t feel left out and can at least practice “Here you are”, “Thank you”. Alternatively, you could get all the students who have got one to start passing them round the class in the same way until everyone has had a chance to touch one at least once.

11. Jumping CD player
This is quite a specific problem, but one that has caused me no end of problems over the years- a class of 40 students jumps to the instructions in the action song and so does the CD, meaning you have to start again from the start of the song (possibly to have it happen all over again when you get to the same point) or give up. Solutions include holding the CD player in the air during the vibration-causing bits, doing the actions in another part of the room and doing an exaggeratedly slow and careful version to try and make it fun that way.

12. All the students copy each other doing the wrong think
One thing you can do is make an effort to give praise to the person who gets says the right answer most quickly, most persistently and/ or with the best pronunciation- but not in a way that makes the others feel bad. Another is to train them to recognise clear signals for when they should listen to your model or the cassette (e.g. a finger across the lips) and when they should repeat or shout out the answers (e.g. a cupped hand by the teacher’s ear). This works even better if they get into a routine of, for example, always listening silently twice and then shouting out the answer twice.

13. The teacher can’t individually drill everyone
Again, not wanting the last few kids to feel left out can make this even more of a problem if you want some individual drilling but no tears. One solution is just to drill individuals until you get the perfect pron from someone, but making sure that the majority of the class rather than a small minority are not picked on each time, that students have the choice to be quiet if they like, and that everyone gets a chance over the length of the class or the term.

14. Stopping to sort out one problem just causes another one
You might recognise this from your own school days- the teacher goes over to sort out one troublemaker, and by the time he or she is finished the whole class is in an uproar about something else. The solutions are similar to “Increased Distractions” above- give the whole class something to do that will keep them absorbed and basically runs itself, and only then go to speak to the individual student or small group that needs sorting out in some way.

15. Parent complaints
Parents much prefer small classes, and most of the research seems to suggest that they are right. If that is not an option in your school or your career, ways of keeping the parents happy include doing things like songs and dances during parent demonstrations that wouldn’t look so good in a small class, making sure you still interact with or at least make eye contact with the child of each parent there, and generally keeping the energy level and (useful) noise level high to give off a party atmosphere.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net May 2008
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic.

One Comment

  • justin beiber says:

    there are many problems when pupils noise
    or when teacher teach for her school work not for us
    or
    when the pupil com for play not for teach and for doing a bad things exemple the sex

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TEFL.net : ESL Lesson Plans : Classroom Ideas : Teaching : 15 problems and solutions for large pre-school classes